Style-focused crossover will rival Volkswagen ID 3 with slick, attractive cabin and compelling specification

For a machine that marks the arrival of a bold new player to the UK market, there’s something disarmingly unassuming about the BYD Atto 3. Given the huge ambition of the manufacturer that produces it, you might expect a big, splashy statement: instead, here’s a thoroughly decent family SUV that carries itself with a quiet confidence.

Never heard of BYD? Well, the Chinese firm was only founded in 1995 and is essentially a battery and technology manufacturer – and it has a wide reach. If you’ve got a smartphone or laptop, there’s a good chance BYD produced the batteries. Been on an electric bus lately? That could well be a BYD, too. And if you’ve still got a stack of face masks from the pandemic, BYD might well have made them.

Basically, BYD is a firm that prefers to grow quietly – but it always does so quickly. Twenty years ago, it branched out into car production, looking for avenues to apply its battery technology; last year, it sold nearly 1.9 million EV and plug-in hybrids. It’s an incredible success story, yet it’s one conducted without much fuss. And BYD seems to be taking that approach to entering the UK market. It might be arriving relatively quietly, but it is set on having 30 dealerships (yes, actual physical dealerships: no online-only 'agency model' for BYD) in the country by the end of this year, and around 100 by 2025.

In China, BYD offers a full range of cars spanning all segments of the market, but it will launch here with a single model – although the Atto 3 is a significant one. It’s already a huge seller in China, where it’s called the Yuan Plus. In Europe, it’s been rebranded and derives its name from an Attosecond (one quintillionth of a second, apparently).

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The Atto 3 is the first BYD built on its e-Platform 3.0, a bespoke electric skateboard chassis that makes full use of the firm’s capabilities. So comprehensively vertically integrated is BYD that it produces its own batteries, motors, drivetrains and semiconductors, all of which are used for this model. That includes the firm’s distinctive lithium-iron-phosphate Blade Battery, which features cells mounted in thin strips directly to the pack, which, BYD says, allows for a much higher density than conventional battery packs.

In the form of the Atto 3, that bold new platform and technology have been used to produce a really quite conventional mid-sized SUV. It’s slightly bigger than a Kia Niro EV and slightly smaller than a Volkswagen ID 4. The exterior styling is pleasant, without really standing out: imagine a mash-up of a Honda CR-V and a Volkswagen ID 3

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The Atto 3 will be offered in three trim levels in the UK but with a single spec, featuring a 201bhp motor and a battery with 60.5kWh usable capacity. That gives a decent official range of 261 miles and efficiency of 3.98 miles per kWh. We averaged closer to 3.2mpkWh on our test route in cold weather.

Speaking of cold weather, the Atto 3 features a heat pump as standard, which isn’t common in this class. In fact, there’s plenty of standard kit. Base-level Active models feature heated front seats, a panoramic sunroof and a vehicle-to-load output.

Base-spec models only get a 7kW charger, while mid-spec Comfort machines feature an 11kW unit. On a DC charger, the Atto 3 can be charged at a maximum of 88kW.

If the exterior is inoffensive, BYD’s designers have clearly had more fun on the interior, and in a very good way: everything feels pleasant and there’s real character, with just the right amount of quirk. The dominant feature is the touchscreen, which on our top-spec Design trim model measured a whopping 15.6in. It has a party trick, too: it can rotate from landscape to portrait. It’s a neat touch, but probably the sort of thing you’ll play with a few times and then decide which you prefer.

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The infotainment system is generally intuitive and well designed, with the key functions easy to access without jabbing your way through loads of sub-menus. Pleasingly, there are a handful of physical buttons to access key functions, too, and voice control, if you like such things.

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Elsewhere, the drive info display is clear and the main driver controls are well laid out. The design of the air vents – they’ve upright rings that look like you could rack your old CD collection in them – may be an acquired taste – and the interior door handles are located on the speakers, which is a bit odd. Lower down, the side of the door bins feature ropes strung like guitar strings. They’re perfectly effective, but if you have kids, expect to get thoroughly bored of them being loudly twanged on long journeys.

Still, the kids will be happy by the amount of space in the rear of the car. By contrast, at 440 litres, the boot is a little on the small side for this class of car: it’s 35 litres smaller than that of a Niro EV, for example.

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On the road, the Atto 3 is, well, disarmingly unassuming. It is exactly what you’d want an electric family SUV to be: acceleration is swift but not exceptional, while the steering is responsive if a little unengaging. There are various drive modes and a few levels of brake regeneration, although there isn’t a full one-pedal function, and as is often the case with EVs, the brakes lack a touch of feel. It certainly rides well on bumpy UK roads, soaking up imperfections and lumps to make for a pleasingly smooth ride.

The Atto 3 is priced from £36,490, rising to £38,990 for the top-spec Design model we tested. That’s competitive for this class of car, although it’s notable that BYD clearly hasn’t set out to significantly undercut rivals to claim market share. The firm has yet to disclose what finance deals will be on offer and, as ever, much will depend on those monthly payments. For that money, you get a thoroughly decent, pleasant electric family SUV. Perhaps the biggest knock on the Atto 3 is that there isn't really a pressing reason to tempt a UK buyer away from a more familiar brand. Then again, if a buyer wanders into an actual, physical BYD dealership, they won't find anything to scare them off.

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Which might be the whole point: many manufacturers launching in a market do so with a bold car that makes a grand statement. Yet with the Atto 3, BYD has jumped straight into one of the most competitive car segments going – and produced a credible contender. In that way, in its quiet competence, the Atto 3 is a statement of huge ambition for BYD’s future plans.

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James Attwood

James Attwood, digital editor
Title: Acting magazine editor

James is Autocar's acting magazine editor. Having served in that role since June 2023, he is in charge of the day-to-day running of the world's oldest car magazine, and regularly interviews some of the biggest names in the industry to secure news and features, such as his world exclusive look into production of Volkswagen currywurst. Really.

Before first joining Autocar in 2017, James spent more than a decade in motorsport journalist, working on Autosport, autosport.com, F1 Racing and Motorsport News, covering everything from club rallying to top-level international events. He also spent 18 months running Move Electric, Haymarket's e-mobility title, where he developed knowledge of the e-bike and e-scooter markets. 

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